The Resurrection and Consumerism
Acts 2:42 - 47, Acts 4:32 - 37

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg


Scripture Reading:  Acts 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 4
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

In the past number of weeks looking at the resurrection, we have been noticing how seeing the future has the power to shape the present. Yes knowing history is important, for those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. But knowing the future also has the profound power to shape the present. A lot of people want to attribute the happenings of the early church to the power of the Pentecost Spirit of God. But the early church saw Pentecost as the divine evidence of the resurrection and ascension. The apostles had one fundamental message: "With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all."  And one of the most profound consequences was that the church became, in contrast to the culture around, a place of sharing, sharing possessions, sacrificially sharing of resources. In fact, the passage says it bluntly: "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

I don’t know if you have noticed the shoe insert commercial. Its starts with a baseball thrown.  The ball crashes through a large picture window, careens through a living room, zips over the shoulder of a young man watching his brand new 42" plasma screen. The ball crashes into the plasma TV, destroying it. The boy comes to the door and apologies to the owner of the window and TV and the owner responds: "That's OK, I'm a jell’in." The boy, at first somewhat stunned, goes back to meet his friends who ask “Was he yelling?” and the boy responds with enthusiastic vigour: “No he was a-gell’in.”

To many of us, the commercial makes little sense. We might simply call it stupid! How can a gel shoe insert make life so comfortable that losing a few thousand dollars in a picture window and another few thousand in a television would not upset a person?  The commercial is actually giving us the heart of the message of consumerism which tells us:  "Take care of yourself (and these two blue little pads is the best way to do it) and all your problems will be solved. Buy this one possession and all your pain will disappear. Own me and you will be on top of the world, on cloud nine, impervious to the painful influence of errant baseballs."

We live in a consumer society. All of us would acknowledge that. In fact we are all pregnant with consumerism. Most of us would even acknowledge that. How is it that the resurrection of Jesus, powerfully proclaimed by the church throughout history, has the power to turn us from consumers to sharers?

The answer to that question starts with understanding consumerism just a little bit better. We live in a culture deeply infected with individualism. We see that individualism in our own lives - we are driven to take care of ourselves, number one. We think in terms of personal rights, my rights, rather than what is best for myself and others. We try to build a life for ourselves, as Randy Frazee says in his book The Connecting Church  “we try to build a life for ourselves in which we don’t need anyone, but should we...”(p. 192)

The consequence of this individualism is profound, but we hardly notice it because these consequences are part of our lives every day. As individualists we have become isolated from each other. Neighbours don’t know each other. We tend to hide inside the comforts of the walls of our homes, other cultures might call them prisons. Loneliness is a universal North American experience.  People live in their own little worlds, listening to their own choice of music caught between the two headphones that make them oblivious to their surroundings and their neighbours. This is happiness!

But is it?

Is not consumerism's cure to our pain deepening our isolation, deepening on loneliness? Haven’t we become a culture that loves things and uses people rather than loving people and using things? (Frazee, p. 184) Isn’t the very consumerism that promises to bring us happiness through ownership and financial power driving us away from each other, the source of happiness? “Consumerism is not based on the amount of money you have to spend but the way you think about the amount of money you have to spend.” (Frazee, p.183)  Money and possessions are our source of independence, but our independence is the curse that destroys community.

To quote John Lock from his book The Devoicing of Society: Why We Don’t talk to Each Other Anymore: “If we needed things we couldn’t buy, many of us would have more friendships.” (Frazee, p. 156)

We need to hear Acts 4:32 again and again because it points us in the direction of rescue from consumerism’s trap.

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

This morning, I am not going to suggest concrete things for us to do. I believe we are already a community shaped by a profound amount of sharing, including our time, which to many of us is our most valuable commodity.

What I am going to suggest is that this passage, because they knew the resurrection was real, because they tasted in the resurrection their future, they had values that their future called them too.

Rather than the value of independence promoted by our society, we are a community that values interdependence. In light of the resurrection of Christ, the early church, seeing its future as an eternal community started practicing that their interdependence as community was far more important than their independence. Those who had wealth started giving sacrificially, they started using their possession to build community rather than using their possession to free themselves from community.

In North America, there are groups of people who are far more intentional about community than we are. The Amish in the US are a group of Mennonite Christians who have many skills and have the resources to out-source many of the projects that they do. But they choose not to because community is one of their highest values. Even though they could live without helping each other, they choose to live helping each other because helping each other builds community and community has an eternal component to it.

As community, we value interdependence more than independence. Knowing what is to come can shape our present.

The second value they shared, in light of their eternal relationships was that in the present - relationships were their most important commodity.

The measure of manhood, the measure of wealth, the measure of fulfillment and joy was not in what one owned, it was in the richness of relationships, the loving caring relationships that they had. Whereas in North America, status is based on the value of our homes, cars, RRSPs and toys, in many other cultures, a person’s wealth is in their relationships. Knowing that we belong together for eternity and we cannot take a single possession with us, we choose to value what will last.

So with the church through history, in light of the resurrection, we make love our highest aim. There is no joy greater than being part of community. There is no possession that will last except for the possession of relationship, with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. I was so blessed when I had the opportunity to speak to David and Alehandra Sandoval this past week. He is a man in desperate need of a home, but what he wants most of all is to build a church. Their focus is on community, and interdependence.

Granted, we live in a consumer society. Swimming in it every day leaves its mark on who we are. I want to end this sermon with a question for your thoughts, reflection, meditation.

How can you foster, build the value of interdependence with your eternal community, your brothers and sisters in Christ?

How much of the business of your life, mine included, is driven by our need to be independent from one another?

Are there areas in my life where I need to value relationships more than possessions?

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

 


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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